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Inside Rikers: Stories from the World's Largest Penal Colony Hardcover – July 25, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0312261795 ISBN-10: 0312261799 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (July 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312261799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312261795
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,193,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Rikers Island penal colony is a world unto itself, with its own power plant, schools, hospital, even a tailor. But the 16,000 people forced to live there, unlike free worlders, are "usually known by their single worst deed." So writes Jennifer Wynn, who has spent the last decade getting beyond those deeds and helping inmates turn their untapped talents into new lives. Wynn first entered Rikers Island as a reporter, returned to teach in a rehabilitation program called Fresh Start, and ultimately became the program's director. Though she has left journalism as a career, this powerful debut puts her in the best tradition of activist journalism. Unlike most criminologists, she understands that the best way to make a point is to show rather than tell. By interlacing statistics with moving stories of Rikers' inmates, she makes clear the arguments for prison--and social--reform.

Though compassionate, Wynn is also a realist who takes a measured approach to the challenges confronted by both inmates and correctional workers. She shares success stories--say, the guy who had been in and out of Rikers for eight years, but finally, with the help of Fresh Start, graduated from the New York Restaurant School--but she is also forthright about the failures. Two questions resound: How can New York City, home to some of the sharpest business minds in the country, spend $860 million a year on inmates and have 75 percent of them return to prison after release? On the flip side, one of her "failures" asks, "I live in the best ... country in the world and I keep asking myself, Why can't I make it?" Wynn is persuasive when she discusses why incarceration increases crime and deepens dependency, how income inequality affects crime, and why--the most bitter irony of all--for many inmates, living on the outside is even harder than jail. This humane examination of America's greatest social problem redefines what it is to be a free worlder and holds a torch to those who make their lives--whether by choice or by law--within its jails. --Lesley Reed

From Publishers Weekly

Wynn presents a penetrating exploration of inmates' lives in New York's "vast penal colony," Rikers Island. She directs the Correctional Association of New York's Prison Visiting Project at Rikers, a formidable, sprawling jail; there, she teaches writing and edits the Rikers Review. Wynn claims working at Rikers has turned her "from a dispassionate journalist into a... compassionate" advocate for prison reform. Her bright, optimistic style seems incongruous with the institutionalized darkness she depicts, however. Her deep commitment to viewing prisoners as the downtrodden among us is supported by the jail's own stark statistics, which indicate that most of the inmates are impoverished minority residents of the city's "dead zones," areas with the highest murder rates, and that many are stuck in the hard cycle of drug addiction and drug-related crime. Wynn uses firsthand narratives of prisoners she's worked with to illustrate the Kafka-esque difficulties convicts face on the road to rehabilitation. Her lively prose, with its refreshing lack of "street" pretensions and her emphasis on the forlorn dignity in humanity subjugated by large-scale imprisonment, make this an unusually stirring example of the "teacher in prison" subgenre and a worthwhile companion to books like Ted Conover's NBCC Award-winning Newjack and Joseph T. Hallinan's Going Up the River, released earlier this year. Her portrait of Rikers as a miniature, punitive Gotham is colorful and complex; moreover, it forces us to acknowledge the inequalities and intricacies of life behind bars, which those ex-convicts continue to face once they step off this island, headed for either prison upstate or to freedom. Agent, Noah Lukeman.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

I enjoyed reading this book and didn't want to put it down.
The author of this book was my professor last year and all i have to say is i really liked her book and she is a great professor.
J. A. Rodriguez
Vivid and graphic details, they completely draw you into the plots of the various background stories of the interviewees .

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Blake on December 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In the book, Inside Rikers, the author combines statistics with insightful stories of inmates she met while inside Rikers Prison. The stories of inmates are highlighted with social commentary and emphasize the need for social and prison reform.
A compassionate advocate for prison reform Wynn writes from the perspective of her experience while teaching at Rikers Prison and while visiting the homes and neighborhoods of the inmates, whose stories she tells. These stories are well written and come across as genuine.
The roller coaster ride of those caught up in the drug cycle, poverty, crime, and arrest is oppressive and disturbing. I especially appreciated insight the author provided into the Methadone "Keep Program". This is only one area of great concern and needed investigation Wynn exposed. The success stories of those who were able to rise above the circumstances are both inspirational and encouraging.
Another insight I received was the tendency for a total lack of conscience experienced by the criminal mind.
I was sorry to come to end of the book. I was stirred to want to take action. I could only wish the author had given more specific suggestions for steps members of the community can take to accomplish some of the reform needs she advocates. The extensive bibliography at the end of the book may be the starting place for finding this help.
I recommend this book to be read and reread by everyone in a position of influence that can affect high-risk neighborhoods and communities.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Inside Rikers is a thought provoking page-turner even for those that have never been involved in or affected by the criminal justice system in any way. A must read that will enlighten and open a window into a dark world that most people probably know very little about; however, the social ramifications to the average citizen are staggering! Jennifer Wynn takes the reader on a private tour into the lives of people that live in another world and yet perhaps in our own backyard. Jennifer presents an unbiased view of the life of a prisoner and ex-con, and a system that keeps them coming back to prison time and again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan J. Kaufman on July 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There may be criticisms of this book, the main one being that the author is an upper middle class white woman who cannot possibly understand or really appreciate or have anything useful to say that is not self-promoting on the underlying reality of the prison system and the people who populate it. But those who dismiss her and this book on these bases would be doing an injustice to these very people she is writing about.
Ms. Wynn is writing from a given perspective. And it is true that this perspective is not from that of the lives of the people she is writing about. But that is exactly what makes the book so powerful and so valuable. Until now, the prison population has been viewed as "them" or the "other." Most books describing the "system" have been written by former prisoners. But Ms. Wynn, writing as a "typical white liberal person," brings this foreign world (for most of us) into very sharp and disturbing focus.
People who read this book will come away understanding so much more about the prison system in the United States than they knew before. They will find that it is indeed a billion dollar industry, that in the short run it is a bureaucratic, shallow solution to a very deep problem. But one of the most important and profound insights to be gained is not what prison does to people, or how big an industry it has become, but rather how it is that a society that purports to be so advanced and so humanistic can have created such a living hell for so many millions of people who never really had a chance to begin with. Even more important is that some of the lives Ms. Wynn tells us about in this book are a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and that even in the face of profound adversity human beings can rise above almost any obstacle. Read this book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ray Houle on September 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I don't know if you've seen the movie, "Traffic", starring Michael Douglas. What's so great about that film is that it gives an outsider an insider's appreciation of the problems of drugs entering America. It's a movie that changes attitudes. "Inside Rikers" is that kind of book. Jennifer Wynn gives the outsider an insider's appreciation of the problems of people in prison. She gives an intimate look at some of these people, enough to give the reader a new appreciation for the challenges that these prisoners face on both sides of the prison door. It's up-close-and-personal, a great read, and you'll be thinking about this one a long time after you finish reading it. At least that's been true for me. Highly recommended.
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16 of 23 people found the following review helpful By "yoco" on July 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Before I start This review a few notes, I have meet the author once or twice having worked in the same jail I also work or worked with all the officers named (a few have recently retired) in this book and know of nearly all the inmates in the book.
Jennifer Wynn is liberal and at times overly forgiving of inmates, (She's soft though not as much as I would have guessed) This was expected, she was a journalist and now works to help rehabilitate inmates as they reenter the street ('New York' as they say). In a few passages she uses worn out silly retoric of the left such as: The silly Jesse Jackson misdirect "It cost more to jail the to Yale" This of course is not just comparing apples and oranges it's comparing apples and mack trucks one has nothing what so ever to do with the other. At another point she notes that New Yok city spends about 5 times more per inmate in jail than it does on students in it's public school, again a bad comparision but since most (but no quite all) inmates on Rikers are at best funtional illiterates that rocked out of NYC public schools it probably says more about public schooling than it does about NYC jails.
Politics aside it is clear that Wynn has a truly Good heart and is generaly concerned and compassionate about helping inmates turn thier lives around and that is a good thing (and of course it is her job).
She has also writen a very readable honest look a the culture of Rikers Island and the innner city. Several passages made me chuckle out loud like her description of prision poetry and trying to teach inmates how to write real poetry.
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